Port Blair, Havelock Island, Neil Island
India, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Already while getting off the boat at the Havelock Ferry Ghat, you'll be amazed by the clear sea water in the harbor. At the end of the pier, the clerk will check your residence permit and enter your name in the visitors' book. Outside the dock, expect crowds of rickshaw drivers and hawkers waiting for you. Negotiate the price for rickshaw (30 INR) and check out several accommodation options on Beach n. 5. Cottages and bungalows are much cheaper on Beach n. 5 than Beach n. 7. We stayed in a bamboo hut with a veranda and enclosed bathroom located a palm tree grove for 500 INR (later we bargained the price down to 400 INR, in 2013, map). Immediately, we fell in love with the place and stayed here for three weeks. Besides the bamboo huts, the owner (passionate PS3 player) also offered more solid bungalows for 600-800 INR. A romantic beach (free access) ideal for watching the sunset is 50 meters away from the cottage.
You can eat in the cheaper family run restaurants (full breakfast 100 - 150 INR, lunch 90 - 260 INR). The locals are not in a hurry. You might wait for your lunch for an hour, sometimes more. Anju Coco Restaurant and Full Moon Cafe restaurants offer somewhat more luxurious and more expensive meal selection.
Rent a scooter (250 INR) or if you feel like - an old rusty bike (60 INR) and have some fun. You can't get lost here since there are only two asphalt roads on this small island that will take you to all the beautiful corners of the deserted beaches, fields, and jungle.
In the center of Havelock, where these two roads meet, you will go shopping. There's all you need - a two-story grocery store, a fish and fruit market (purchased fresh fish can be prepared in any family restaurant), liqueur shop, Copyshop, hairdresser, or PC café (satellite expensive and extremely slow connection, 150 INR per 30 min).
On the way to the Beach No. 7, on the winding road, first crossing the farmer's fields, later ascending steeply up through the jungle, look for a smaller bus stop with the Elephant Beach sign (map). Park your bike or motorbike here and head off into the jungle towards Elephant Beach. An unforgettable experience is walking barefoot on the narrow paths of the jungle through pristine, impenetrable vegetation, passing by enormous tall trees with hanging lianas and observing flocks of countless lizards running all around you. After a quite easy 30-minute hike, you will reach the morass covered with thousands of crab shells - this area can only be crossed early in the morning (6-7 AM at low tide). After another few yards, the incredible Elephant Beach will reveal itself. In the off-season (early May 2013) we had the entire beach for ourselves. During the low tide, do not hesitate to jump into the hot waters of the sea - what you'll see underwater will surely take your breath away. In a second you'll immerse yourself into the fantastic underwater world full of sea corals, illuminated by the sun's rays, penetrating through the clear turquoise water. You'll observe the vivid life of all those colorful fishes living in the corals (I have seen even Nemo), and if you are lucky, you will also spot a sea turtle as well.
Towards the end of May at the time of upcoming monsoon season, the waters of Elephant Beach got turbid and unsuitable for scuba diving, but we experienced an indescribable feeling as we waded barefoot the streams of muddy water running down the jungle during the heavy tropical storms.
Beach n. 7 looks like one of those scenic photoshopped beaches out of the luxury exotic destinations catalog. This wide and long beach bordered by dense tropical vegetation (which is home to thousands of super-loud cicadas) provides plenty of room to spend an enjoyable afternoon. Play in the waves or enjoy snorkeling, just watch out for the white crocodile that was seen here a few years ago.
For traveling around Havelock Island, I used my shitty bike. From Beach n. 5 to Beach n. 7, it's a 12 km drive, but the experience from seeing the surrounding countryside is absolutely indescribable. The roads are of a farmland nature, full of holes, and the rented bikes are not in an exceptional condition either - you'll get a flat tire for sure. They will fix the puncture for you in the town center (for 150 INR they will replace the whole tube). Happened, that one beautiful day I had to push my punctured bike at least 8 km barefoot on the hot asphalt road, as my flip-flops broke at the same time. Unbelievable but the trip was terrific anyway!
In the Havelock Ferry Ghat, you can buy a ticket to Neil Island (360 INR). Apart from completing a form, you might be required to provide a copy of your passport and perhaps a copy of the visa.
A substantially smaller brother lying south of Havelock Island offers you considerably more privacy and peace. To explore this micro island, renting a bicycle will be more than enough (60 INR).
A pleasant and very cheap (especially off-season) accommodation offers the Kalapani Resort. Mini brick cottages with shared bathroom and toilet are available for 150 INR (map, web). The rocky beach is right around the corner, and an outdoor restaurant is right on site. Just the landlady was a terrible cook.
The "Must see" on Neil Island certainly includes the natural beaches - Laxmanpur Beach, Lakshmanpur Beach n. 2 and Sitapur Beach.
Offseason, the only person you might meet on the beach would be perhaps a local fisherman, and so even if you walk around naked, no one knows.
Surfing and diving conditions are not ideal on Neil Island, yet we enjoyed our stay very much indeed.
Upon arrival, you will get interviewed by friendly immigration officials. You will fill out the necessary forms and receive an Arrival Card with some information on its backside. You'll be issued a 1-month stamp in your passport. If you want to extend your stay in the Andaman Islands, you will do so here, and you will receive additional 14 days (up to 1.5 months - if you need more than that, return to India and repeat the whole process).
At the harbor, talk to the rickshaw drivers, bargain and get a ride to the center of Port Blair for 70 INR. On the way, just a few hundred meters outside the harbor, you will first realize what a beautiful place you are at. Views of the turquoise sea and the crystal clear bays are breathtaking. In the center of Port Blair, I felt a bit like nothing had ever changed since the colonial era.
Stay at the very friendly Amina Lodge (map) right in the city center, opposite Sri Ganesh Temple and a short walk away from Aberdeen Bazaar. Pay 400 INR (today 450 INR) versus the astronomical prices online. Around the corner, you have a bazaar where you can buy almost everything. I can recommend the restaurant Gagan (map) serving good food at very affordable prices. We were thrilled by the AFC (Andaman Fried Chicken, map) that brought us out of the routine of everyday Indian cuisine. Crispy chicken and tasty burgers are fresh, and the garlic dressing is just perfect.
Take a look around the colonial Cellular Jail (entrance 35 INR, rickshaw from the downtown 40 INR) that served the Brits to lock up political prisoners. Concrete cells are freely accessible, and their crampedness gave me goosebumps.
In Port Blair, there is not much to see besides the jail. Buy a ticket to Havelock Island in Aberdeen Jetty (60 INR rickshaw to the port - other than the port for boats to India, 360 INR for a ticket to Havelock, map) and go out to discover the beauty of one of the most popular Andaman Islands.